Children’s clothing today is a whole new ballgame. And no one is kidding around. Consumers are much more educated today. Business is booming, thanks to rising family incomes, peer pressure, global retail formats and exposure to brands has made the desire to dress up your no child’s play. In India, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry estimates that the childrenswear industry is worth Rs. 38,000 crore, and growing at a compound annual rate of about 20 percent to reach Rs. 80,000 crore by 2015.
By Supriya Dravid
Blame it on pester power. Or on Suri Cruise, Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’ immaculately turned out six-year-old daughter, who is regularly seen wearing lipstick, nail polish and kitten heels — and has a wardrobe collection estimated to be worth $3.2 million, including Burberry trench coats, chic floral dresses, gold strap ballerina outfits and, wait for it, miniature Ferragamo bags. Or on Willow Smith, the 10-year-old pop-sensation daughter of actor Will Smith. Or on Romeo Beckham, David and Victoria Beckham’s eight-year-old son, who has already made it to GQ’s best-dressed list. Or on the steady tribe of Hollywood stars, who are papped while parading their designer-clad offspring down Sunset Boulevard. Children’s clothing today is a whole new ballgame. And no one is kidding around. Consumers are much more educated today. Business is booming, thanks to rising family incomes, peer pressure, global retail formats and exposure to brands has made the desire to dress up your no child’s play. In India, the Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry estimates that the childrenswear industry is worth Rs. 38,000 crore, and growing at a compound annual rate of about 20 percent to reach Rs. 80,000 crore by 2015.
Earlier this year, Mumbai witnessed the first ever India Kids Fashion Week. A clear indicator of the growing trend of luxury and fashion for kids, the India Kids Fashion Week was a great attempt to boost sales in India’s junior fashion market. A host of high profile designers like Nishka Lulla, Narendra Kumar, Rocky S, Malini Ramani and Payal Singhal showcased their collections. “Since parents are happily shopping for luxury products for themselves, they see nothing wrong in shopping for their children as well,” says Singhal. Jewelry designer Kavita Seth couldn’t agree more. “I have two little girls aged 12 and 14. They are more fashion conscious than me. Cartoons are passé. They’ve taken to Fashion TV,” she says.
Cynics may say that designers like Singhal are merely recreating smaller versions of their adult creations. The designers won’t have it. Singhal explains, “When designing a junior collection, we designers keep a lot of things in mind. We think of using soft fabrics, easy openings for kids to get in and out of the garments, soft colors and safe garments for younger kids with no tassels, beads or stones with clasps that could hurt them. Since kids grow taller quite quickly, designers must also think of multiple use and longer use (at least 3-5 years). It is important for us to make things that can be worn in more ways than one and at different lengths for more value for money, especially when it comes to an outfit that is very expensive.”
Another Indian label, Kidology, sells Indian and Western wear designed by the likes of Gauri and Nainika, Siddhartha Tytler, Gaurav Gupta, Namrata Joshipura and Ritu Kumar, for children up to 10 years old. Besides its own stores in Delhi and Mumbai, Kidology also sells through other retail outlets in Mumbai and Hyderabad. It is in talks with private equity funds, and plans new stores in Chandigarh, Ludhiana and elsewhere. Children’s outfits priced at Rs.12,000 may sound steep, but the partners say there are takers at that price. Kidology’s same-store sales have grown more than 40 percent in the past year.
Designer Suneet Varma is launching Armani Junior, a subsidiary of international luxury fashion label Giorgio Armani, in India. The designer has opened a private firm, Unique Eye Luxury Apparel Pvt. Ltd., along with a few partners and has signed a three-store deal with the label. The first store will open at Delhi’s DLF Emporio in March next year. If businessman Sanjiv Kapoor is anything to go by, there won’t be any shortage of customers. “It’s our children we slog all day for so I don’t care about price. My little girl should always look like a princess,” he says.
A decade ago, Ralph Lauren’s design of a high-end Hamptons-chic lifestyle brand had few imitators. Dior had Baby Dior, founded in 1967 (before that, the house made outfits for some of its celebrated clients, like Elizabeth Taylor, who ordered matching tweed suits for herself and her young daughter Liza). In the last year or two, top-end designers have taken kidswear to the next level. Gucci became the latest global fashion brand to add a children’s range to its portfolio, with an international advertising campaign fronted by Jennifer Lopez and her young twins, and a sizeable collection comprising everything from floral-print ballet shoes to pint-sized biker jackets, complete with interlocking G motifs, for ages two to eight.
Stella McCartney too recently launched her second range of children’s clothing pitched at fashion-savvy parents looking for playful, on-trend pieces, many echoing her women swear collection. So did Paul Smith whose collection of clothes for boys and girls from birth to 12 is a miniaturized version of his main line. Jean Paul Gaultier followed soon after. The new season’s children’s line for Missoni was sold out at Harvey Nichols within weeks of delivery in July 2011. Diesel too makes a great denim line for children as does Hermes, which creates baby clothes like plush cashmere mittens and beautiful leather Mary Jane’s. Fendi too has come up with a spring line of luxury wear for kids including outfits in muted taupe shades offset by cute floral and plaids with a plenty of yellows and pinks as well. A single baby romper’s cost is about $226. Dolce & Gabbana already has a “juniors” collection since 2001, when it capitalized on the luxe diaper bag trend. Phillip Lim launched a junior’s line in 2007, the same year as Chloe’s and John Galliano’s forays into kidswear.
Christopher Bailey at Burberry seems to have brought his fresh, youthful spirit to the kidswear collections as well. For boys, this summer, there is a bunch of easy and casual shirts with a variety of preppie checks, stripes and sporty embellishments. Shorts, tee shirts and cashmere hoodies are delightfully boyish and extremely versatile. Besides that, the oh-so-British brand also has gumboots, umbrellas and vintage messenger bags. The girls are equally spoilt for choice. Besides the customary coats and quilted blousons, they can also choose from a range of ultra-feminine summer dresses and skirts. In terms of accessories for girls, Burberry’s junior collection features comfy sandals, tartan checked ballet pumps, sun hats and, our favorite, heart-shaped bags, perfect for the beach or a summer resort. Last year, Burberry sold $91 million in clothing for children — from newborn, including diaper bags covered in Burberry’s beige check, to early teens — for an increase of 23 percent over the previous year. Most of Burberry’s 12 free-standing children’s stores are in Asia and the Middle East.
But to top them all, in November 2011, Lanvin Petite launched Alber Elbaz’s first collection of 25 “precious pieces” for girls aged four to 10, with precious prices to match. For anyone, who has lusted after the tiered silk and subtle draping of Lanvin’s women’s collections, but wept at the prices, its latest offering for children will make you want to sell your first born. Think washed organza frocks, exquisitely hand-embroidered with crystals, satin ribbon and grosgrain,) are tantalizingly beautiful, but even without the VAT (children’s clothes are exempt), they are only for the very deeply pocketed. Be prepared to dish out $1,200 for a tulle shift, with a strand of faux pearls knotted in tulle, a signature of the designer Alber Elbaz, or $1,570 for a trench coat in fuchsia taffeta. Shuddering, much? It must have been pre-ordered for Suri Cruise anyway.
Versace also launched its Young Versace in Spring 2012, aimed at tiny ones from infancy to age 12 with a campaign starring Cindy Crawford’s 10-year-old daughter Kaia Gerber.
Interestingly enough, brands like Oscar de la Renta, Fendi, Marc Jacobs, Roberto Cavalli, Missoni, Milly and Phillip Lim moved into expanded children’s areas of stores, like the new one at Bergdorf Goodman.
In order to build a complete brand and lead this trend in 2011, big retailers are collaborating with designers every now and then to attract as much attention as possible. Take for instance the collaboration between fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg, who found fame and success with her iconic wrap dresses, and baby Gap. Following in the footsteps of fellow designer and Gap Kids collaborator Stella McCartney, the 65-year-old has used her experiences as a mother and grandmother to create a collection with the American retailer suited to newborn.
Last November, Target collaborated with singer Gwen Stefani on her Harajuki Mini childrenswear line that comprised tees, cardigan and tutu with bright colors and Japanese-inspired illustrations with prices ranging from $3.99 to $29.99. At Marks & Spencer, there is currently a striped 1970s dress for one-to eight-year-olds, which bears a remarkable resemblance to a Marc Jacobs dress seen on the catwalk recently. “Fashionability has become increasingly important to us over the years,” admits Sharon James, M&S’s head of design for childrenswear. “Parents are more trend-aware now, and there is not such a divide between what you and your children wear. It’s accepted that you would desire new and exciting things for your kids in the same way as you do for your own wardrobe.”
Liberty in the UK relaunched its children’s department in February 2012, due to customer demand. The iconic store — which ceased carrying kidswear six years ago — stocks fashion, accessories, books, furniture, toys and gifts in the new third-floor department. And a Liberty-print kidswear line is expected to follow later in the year. The department will carry childrenswear by Isabel Marant and Acne, both making their childrenswear debut, as well as Stella McCartney, Lanvin, 3.1 Phillip Lim, and Little Marc.
Selfridges reported a 70 percent rise in luxury babywear sales. It is here that you can buy a £550 Dior cashmere bodysuit for your baby to be sick on, or a £275 white Burberry double-breasted trench coat to match your own. It has sold out of £55 children’s quilted Barbour jackets, while sales of mini Burberry trench coats, which sell for £375, have risen by 71 percent. Sales of Ugg boots for children, costing £104, have doubled over the last year.
Global Industry Analysts, Inc. (GIA), a US based market research company claims that the global market for children’s wear is projected to reach $156.8 billion by the year 2015, driven by the frequent need to purchase new clothing to address the requirements of growing children. The US accounts for 35.7 percent of the global childrenswear market value. Around £5 billion worth of children’s clothing is sold in the UK each year. Within this, an estimated £500 million is spent on luxury designer fashions for children. This latter category is growing at an estimated 25 percent a year.
The excesses of the luxury industry inevitably lead us to the question: do parents need to draw the line when it comes to lavishing luxurious clothes, shoes and accessories on their tiny tots? Should children be made brand conscious at an early age or is ignorance indeed bliss, as some old schoolers would say? Moët Hennessy India’s marketing honcho, Gaurav Bhatia says, “Personally, I believe everything in life has a stage. But quality and creativity is something that one always wants for one’s children. If a brand can guarantee that, my vote goes to it.”
With so much happening in the kidswear segment, even celebrities have not ignored this trend. A surprise entry has been Lady Gaga, who recently launched a new line of clothing for children. The collection, called Gaga Goo Goo, includes miniature versions of the eccentric singer’s outrageous outfits. Given the excesses of the luxury industry, one might wonder if we are providing our children with the problem of plenty. It makes one wonder if grooming our children into future shoppers with expensive tastes is right. Cynics might suggest everything in moderation, including moderation. Elbaz may not agree but then he isn’t the one raising, to quote Lady Gaga, your Little Monsters.
(With inputs from Riaan J. George and Ayesha Singh)